John "Bucky" McCulley
Many who threw their support behind former Hamilton County Sheriff Billy Long got favors thrown back in their direction during his 17-month tenure, including jobs, special access IDs and in one case even a falsified loan application, records show.
Mr. Long, who resigned last month after being arrested on federal extortion, money laundering, firearm and drug charges, left an administration in place that included two friends and campaign donors in the top slots under Chief Deputy Allen Branum.
His staffing choices — which included a failed bid in 2007 to demote two captains left over from former Sheriff John Cupp’s administration — drew criticism from the Civil Service Board, which reviews personnel decisions.
“It was personal,” board member John “Bucky” McCulley said Friday of the former sheriff’s request to reduce Capt. David Hamby’s rank to lieutenant. “When Billy Long sits on the stand, and the first thing he says is that he would have fired him the first day he took office if he could have, that’s personal.”
The board also chastised Mr. Long for employing his friends Don Gorman, Ron Parson and Penni Kimsey in violation of civil service rules, forcing him to fire them in October 2006 and rehire them through proper channels.
Mr. Gorman, now the department’s director of administration, was a civilian acquaintance from Mr. Long’s time in the National Guard who contributed $1,000 to his campaign.
Mr. Parson, who serves as director of law enforcement services and interim director of corrections, is a former Chattanooga police officer who donated $500 to the campaign, according to finance records.
Ms. Kimsey and her husband Sgt. Mark Kimsey, a traffic investigator for the department, gave a total of $1,000. The former administrative assistant had resigned from the department without notice on March 3, 2006, because she “would not relocate to the downtown office,” according to her personnel file.
Mr. Long rehired her on an “emergency” basis after taking office on Sept. 1, 2006, telling Civil Service Board members that he needed her, along with Mr. Gorman and Mr. Parson, because they represented “a certain staff that I can trust.”
But in a signed letter dated Sept. 14, 2006, Mr. Long told the 1st Trust Bank for Savings on Gunbarrel Road that Ms. Kimsey had been employed by the department the entire time and had taken a “leave of absence” from March 1 through Sept. 1.
After he asked personnel assistant Carole Miller to sign and send the form, she attached an addendum explaining its untruthfulness.
“I cannot stand behind the form as signed as it does not reflect the information in our records,” Ms. Miller wrote.
Some of Mr. Long’s other campaign donors were given “special deputy” status as citizens, according to department records.
Chief Deputy Allen Branum said he was not sure whether the records, which show 14 special deputies, even are complete because department officials are not sure Mr. Long accounted for all of his actions on paper while in office.
But he also noted that under state law, the former sheriff was allowed to appoint as many special deputies as he deemed appropriate for any particular purpose.
Deputized city police officers, county park rangers, reserve officers, chaplains, dive team members and trained reserve officers use their department commissions for official business, according to Chief Branum.
County Attorney Rheubin Taylor, who along with Hamilton County District Attorney General Bill Cox is deputized, said his particular commission allows him to carry a gun. Although he never has been called upon to use it, he said, it is helpful for job-related duties.
Asked what those specific duties would be, he replied, “I’m not going to get into that” and declined to answer any further questions.
The 14 private citizens who are special deputies are “limited in what they can do,” according to Chief Branum.
“It gives them access to events and scenes,” he said. “There’s no weapons authority. It’s just an ID card to show that you were affiliated with the sheriff’s office.”
Any special deputies carrying firearms have to go through specialized training to do so, the chief said.
Most of the special deputies are listed in department records as “ID only/no authority.” But Bill Miller, Will Miller, Dickie Hutsell and Vince Tiano — the four people who according to department spokesman Deputy Dusty Stokes were “instrumental” in purchasing a $300,000 Mobile Command Center for the department — all are considered “reserve officers” who are part of the department’s “emergency response team.”
That team is called in during times of disaster and is in charge of driving the command center, which the Miller Foundation leases to the department for $1 a year, Chief Branum said.
“When the command bus rolls, that’s their job,” he said. “They have a role there, because they basically bought the thing.”
Though Special Deputy Greg Austin, president of CTC Technologies — who according to financial disclosure forms gave $1,300 to Mr. Long’s campaign — is listed in department records as having “ID only/no authority,” he said Friday that he has been told he is a member of the emergency response team.
A former National Guard member, Mr. Austin said he received no other training from the department before he was offered an ID card. He said he never has been called in to assist the department, but that he would be at the ready to help with “riot control” if asked.
He said he does not carry a gun, as his card stipulates that he has no weapons authority.
“It’s not a badge,” he said. “I don’t have a uniform or anything like that ... I’m just a backup.”
Those with honorary law enforcement ID cards are not regulated by the Tennessee Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, said POST Executive Secretary Brian Grisham. But anyone “helping out the agency, working special events or riding with and assisting a full-time officer” falls under reserve officer standards, which mandate 80 hours of first-year training plus 40 hours of refresher training each year, he said.
FAVORS NOT FALL ALL
Not all of Mr. Long’s campaign donors received special deputy status, Mr. Austin said.
“I know several people who are business owners in town who didn’t get them,” he said, explaining that he believes his may have stemmed from a connection with a retired policeman.
In awarding the cards, Mr. Long was continuing a practice that occurred under other sheriffs, Mr. Gorman said.
Mr. Gorman said he had a commission card under a former sheriff, which he said allowed him to carry a gun without having a state handgun permit.
None of Mr. Long’s special deputy appointments or hires were the product of unfair cronyism, according to Mr. Gorman, who said both he and Mr. Parson were placed legally on county payrolls as soon as the sheriff learned how to do so.
Mr. McCulley agreed, saying that although there appeared to be personal bias in place initially in several instances, the Civil Service Board was there to check the sheriff’s power in that way.
“He can’t just come in and hire anybody he wants to,” Mr. McCulley said. “But he’s going to bring in his own people. Any sheriff is going to do that.”
According to Mr. McCulley, Mr. Long brought in people “to do stuff that he thought needed to be done to the sheriff’s department. And gosh, it was working.”
Both fellow board member Dorothy Lawson and board chairman William Pippin declined to offer their opinions.
Local attorney Lee Davis said he was among those whom Mr. Long had leaned on at election time, but that he never received a special commission or had contact with the sheriff after his $500 donation — at least until recently, when a letter from Mr. Long’s wife, Joy, arrived.
The letter was a request for money for Mr. Long’s defense fund, and it left a sour taste in Mr. Davis’ mouth.
“I think it would be far more appropriate that he return political contributions to people he solicited from rather than ask us for more contributions for his defense,” Mr. Davis said.